Reviews: Books


Adventures in the Rifle Brigade: In the Peninsula, France and the Netherlands from 1809 to 1815

Kincaid, John. Adventures in the Rifle Brigade: In the Peninsula, France and the Netherlands from 1809 to 1815. Rockville Center, NY: Sarpedon Pub., 1998. 384 pages. ISBN# 1885119550. $37.95. Hardcover.

Adventures in the Rifle Brigade cover

Irrepressible. This is one of those autobiographies which just sparkles with self-deprecating wit, but is absolutely packed with detail. Kincaid has taken a step aside from general detail on battle but reports enthusiastically on the minutiae of everyday life in Wellington's army, and more specifically of life in the 95th regiment. It's another autobiography you have to thank the publishers for realising was worth reprinting and, for me anyway, it is a must buy.

There has been a lot of interest recently in the Peninsular War - and it seems the laconic and witty officers of the 95th (later the 'Rifle Brigade') were amongst the best in retelling their experiences. Perhaps it was that they were a different breed of officer --the 95th starting off as an experimental 'light' regiment, a corps established as skirmishers. They didn't fight in line, column and square, and so didn't need to spend the hours drilling. Instead they were encouraged to think for themselves and trained to take advantage of every piece of ground for harassing the enemy. That attitude seems to extend, in general, to their writing --they tend to be free-spirited, witty and, in Kincaid's book definitely, he takes advantage of every instance to make a joke --often at his own expense.

Adventures in the Rifle Brigade follows a chronological sequence and I guess was written using his own diary as a guide to events. It has dated entries, but he has interspersed these with helpful comments to the uninformed reader on what life was like --so 11 March 1811 contains comments on what a bivouac means, when an officer says to "pile arms and make themselves comfortable for the night." As Kincaid notes "there are several degrees of comfort to be reckoned in a bivouac." I would note that none of them sound particularly comfortable at all.

What is so likable about Kincaid is the light-hearted way he discusses events and lets slip detail. Of his joining of the rifles in 1809 he writes "I remember how desirous I was, on the march to Deal, to impress the minds of the natives with a suitable notion of the magnitude of my importance, by carrying a donkey-load of pistols in my belt, and screwing up my naturally placid countenance up to a pitch of ferocity..."

Kincaid's book starts in 1809 with his joining up in time for the ill-fated Walcheren expedition, and finishes just after Waterloo. This book is at the top of my list of favourite chroniclers of the Peninsular War.

Reviewed by Anne Woodley, editor of the Regency Collection On-Line.
4/00

 

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